Action Demanding Restoration of the Special Diet Allowance Marks Day One of Dr Wong Suspension

Image

February 5th marked the first day of the suspension of Dr Wong’s medical licence – an act taken by The College of Physicians and Surgeons in complicity with the Ontario Liberals attack on vital benefits for the poor.  While a rally in solidarity with Dr Wong raged on in Toronto, Poverty Makes Us Sick organizers worked closely with allies in Ottawa to respond locally.  We are thrilled to have worked with such strong organizers for our first event in Ottawa. 

Despite a controlled entry system (staff employed a visual assessment of those knocking to determine eligibility to enter) we gained entry to constituency office of Ottawa Center Liberal MPP, Yasir Naqvi.  The disruption to ‘business as usual’ was sublime, the police response bloated and the demands clear:  Fully Restore the Special Diet Allowance, stop all attempts to intimidate Dr Wong and other MD’s! Raise the Rates!  Access to Healthy Food for All!

Image

A CBC camera person arrived and was ejected from the office.  At this time police were called.  We withdraw from the office on our own accord, before police arrived, to address the media. 

Following our action the Minister of Labour himself, Mr. Yasir Naqvi, tweeted to us that “I’m always here to discuss issues respectfully. Don’t agree w your illegal trespass & jeopardizing health/safety of community staff.”  And with those ignorant, slanderous words he became far more interesting to PMUS. Our demand is for action not empty discussion and it would not be suitable for anyone to respect someone who is involved in a murderous assault on the poor. Moreover, Naqvi’s office has controlled access requiring us to be buzzed in and the Liberal’s constituency office workers have clearly been instructed to construe distress in a sad attempt to discredit the resistance to the Liberal’s assault on the poor (evidence of this can be found elsewhere on this blog). But, by far the most belligerent aspect of Naqvis’s tweet is his suggestion that his staff’s health and safety was jeopardized by our presence. The Ontario Liberals’ vile policies are a major health/safety concern for the poor in Ontario.  A matter of life and death, not feigned discomfort.  His appropriation of these devastating realities is obscene.

Clearly we will cross paths with Naqvi again shortly. In the meantime, the following statement, with elements adapted from OCAP’s literature, was read in Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi’s office today:

Attack on accessibility to Special Diet Allowance & the suspension of Dr. Roland Wong

We are here today to stand in solidarity with Dr. Roland Wong who is being punished for the ‘crime’ of helping poor people access healthy food for themselves and their families.  The 6-month suspension of Dr. Wong’s medical licence came into effect this morning.  We are here in solidarity with poor people across this province who continue to fight against the austerity agenda of this government. 

We are here to express our outrage at the decision of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario to punish Dr. Wong, a Toronto physician, for helping his patients living in the deep poverty of OW and ODSP, obtain the Special Diet Allowance.   This afternoon in Toronto, poor people and their allies are joining the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty in a rally at the College offices to demand the immediate lifting of Dr. Wong’s suspension.  And we are here, in the office of a Liberal cabinet minister, to express our condemnation of the government’s role in bringing about this act of retribution against resistance to its policies of exclusion and marginalization and our refusal to accept the intimidation of our allies in this fight.

We know that the this Liberal government was thrown into a panic and a rage when they saw that a doctor was taking active steps to reduce poverty in the face of this government’s wilful neglect.  The Ministry of Community and Social Services filed complaints to the Ministry of Health, the OPP, and finally the College, the body that regulates doctors in Ontario, and a full-scale attack on Dr. Wong was set in motion. This government, in partnership with the College, is clearly working to intimidate others who might follow his example and act in the best interests of their patients who live in poverty.   We show our gratitude, respect and solidarity with him in the face of this despicable attack.

All medical evidence shows that low income is the greatest single threat to someone’s health. If doctors and other medical providers are serious about health, they must be advocates and act to address and offset the symptoms of poverty, the single most health-compromising issue we face. It’s deplorable to see a government bullying those addressing health issues through their very institutions, and for the College to intimidate a member of the organisation they supposedly ‘represent’.

Under this Liberal government, the Special Diet program was gutted.  Only through enormous public pressure was a version of it maintained, although a ghost of its former self.  Many people who had relied on this vital supplement have been cut off and people living in deep poverty are again forced to choose between rent and the healthy food they need to maintain their basic well-being.  Instead of recognizing the social and financial logic of this investment in health promotion, your government chose to file a complaint and have a key provincial anti-poverty advocate, investigated for medical fraud when he tried to protect poor Ontarians from your neglect and get them access to the healthy food that is preventative medicine.  Today, the suspension of Dr. Roland Wong’s licence to practice medicine in Ontario will begin.  He is also burdened with tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs and penalties.  This is unacceptable, and we call for the immediate restoration of Dr. Wong’s license and the cancelation of all fines and penalties launched against him.

During the years the Liberals have been in office, the number of people working for the sub poverty minimum wage has doubled and this simply could not have been achieved without driving down the adequacy of social assistance.  Under the so-called ‘Social Justice Premier’, the recent decision to bump the minimum wage to $11, forcing full-time workers to live 16% below the poverty line, demonstrated once again the cynical approach to poverty reduction of this government.

Ottawa is now the third most unaffordable city to live in, in Canada.  With escalating rents, massive condo development, and the gentrification of our community spaces, more and more of our neighbours and friends find themselves on an eight year long wait list for affordable housing.  Thousands of people in our community are forced to choose between paying rent and eating.  We demand the province provide an immediate increase to assistance rates to reflect the real cost of housing utilities and food in Ontario communities.

While talking about ‘poverty reduction’, this government has relentlessly worked to stop anything that impedes the further impoverishment of people on social assistance.   This is a clear component of the war on the poor, and more specifically a direct assault on accessibility to food for poor and working poor folks living in Ontario.  As organizers, we have met with politicians, including two Ministers of Community and Social Services.  We have heard Liberal members express their commitment to ending poverty and to improving the lives of poor people in this province.  We have watched endless consultations, endless discussion, endless delaying tactics. We say enough. We are not fooled by the fancy rhetoric.  Your government have demonstrated since you took power that addressing poverty is simply not a priority. You can only use the ghost of the Harris era so long before it sounds hollow – we are way past that time.

The fact is, that under your government’s leadership, poor people are falling further and further behind – now requiring an increase of almost 60% to regain the losses made during the Harris regime (over 20% lost since your government’s tenure began).   Well, Yasir, as the saying goes, you can’t get blood from a stone – and these policies indeed have blood on them. 

This is but one of many upcoming actions that will aim to target all those complicit in the government’s attack on poor communities across the province.  It is time to live up to the reputation that you claim and become a real champion for poor Ontarians.  We look forward to seeing you step up but we’re not going to wait.  This is a time for action – since the government refuses to act …. the people are mobilizing.

Our minimum demands remain those of the Raise the Rates Campaign: 

WE DEMAND an immediate increase in OW and ODSP rates to bring them back to pre-Harris levels. 55% NOW– raise the rates to where people can live with health and dignity!

WE DEMAND that the minimum wage be increased to a living wage for everyone in Ontario, tied to inflation, beginning with an immediate increase to $14.

WE DEMAND the full restoration of the Special Diet to a benefit of up to $250 for food and complete reversal of all intrusive measures AND the full restoration of the Community Start-up And Maintenance Benefit as a provincially run program.   

Image

For more info on the need for access to healthy food for all see: http://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/publication/poverty_is_making_us_sick__a_comprehensive_survey_of_income_and_health_in_canada/

For more info on Dr Wong and today’s partnered rally in Toronto see: http://www.ocap.ca/node/1132

Follow us on Twitter: @kwpmus

 

Advertisements
Comments are closed.
%d bloggers like this: